It’s estimated that 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders. From statistics on www.webmd.com, this includes one in every 25 girls and women at some point in their lives.
Although eating disorders often begin in adolescence, some of the causes may be rooted in childhood. There are three main types of eating disorders among children:
Anorexia is when a child refuses to eat enough calories due to an irrational fear of becoming fat
Bulimia is when a child grossly overeats, then purges food by vomiting or using laxatives
Binge eating is when a child gorges on food without purging
Eating disorders often begin when a person suffers from low self-esteem, feeling helpless, an irrational fear of being overweight, and distress of some type.
Depression can go hand in hand with eating disorders in some children and adolescents.
According to www.webmd.com, eating disorders can cause many physical problems including:
- Permanent damage to body organs
- Heart rate changes
- Lowered blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and breathing rate
- Sensitivity to cold
- Thinning bones
- Can be fatal in extreme cases
What can parents do to help prevent eating disorders in children? Start with your own attitudes about food and eating. You set the example for your children.
Here are some steps you can take now to help keep your child from developing an eating disorder:
- Teach healthy eating habits
- Don’t insist that chldren clean their plates
- Don’t force a child to eat if the child isn’t hungry
- Don’t have control battles at mealtime
- Encourage healthy food choices
- Don’t use food as a reward or comfort
- Set good eating examples
- Don’t pig out yourself
- Encourage healthy attitudes about body image
- Don’t talk about weighing too much
- Don’t put too much emphasis on weight
- Stay active as a family
- Give your child positive support in all she does
- Speak up if you think your child has a problem
When you are watching TV with your children and see commercials with only really skinny people, talk about it. Tell your kids that the images they see in popular shows aren’t in line with reality.
Some symptoms of eating disorders are:
- Dramatic weight loss
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss
- Preoccupation with food
- Excessive dieting
- Talking about being fat
- Avoiding eating in front of others
- Refusing to eat certain foods
- Stopping menstruating
- Denying that there’s a problem
If your child exhibits signs of an eating disorder, get help right away. Seek professional counseling to help your child recognize the cause of her depression or distress.
Parents are the first teachers of their children. Teach your children well.